MapYourProperty began as most startups do. Its founder, Devin Tu, had an old problem that needed a new solution. He was working as a land use planner for the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change and was often tasked with the tedious job of screening development applications — a process that would take days, even weeks to complete. Tu was fed up with how antiquated planning due diligence had become, so he vowed to automate it.
The online platform is a tool for professionals, including developers, urban planners, real estate lawyers, engineers and architects, who wish to assess a property in three clicks and 30 seconds. MYP is currently available in 10 municipalities (including the City of Toronto and York Region) and has access to 50 databases. It alerts the user of any regulations or restrictions associated with a property and compiles them into a full report that is rich in detail and valuable analytics.
BuzzBuzzHome News spoke to MapYourProperty’s co-founders Devin Tu and Jordan Turner from their office in the Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ), a business incubator open to tech startups. We found out more about their potentially game-changing new software and plans for the future.
Devin Tu: Jordan and I met at a HackerNest event. This was in the very early stages and Jordan lied to me about knowing a lot of front end Google Maps kind of scripts. I said, “Okay, great! Join our company.”
Jordan Turner: I went to Seneca College for computer engineering and technology. Prior to working with Devin, I was an electrician. Devin is right — I definitely did lie about front end development, I sort of just taught myself along the way. It was a ‘fake it ‘till you make it’ sort of deal. But here we are now!
BBH: What inspired the idea behind Map Your Property?
DT: Real estate is very old school. Most of my job at the Ministry of the Environment was just cross checking information in these huge folders and it was driving me nuts. I knew there was a way to automate it, but I didn’t have the expertise. Jordan was my savior. Now we’re able to rapidly search through 50 data sets in about 30 seconds.
BBH: Can you explain briefly how MYP works?
JT: A user will go to our website and search for a property. Let’s say a land development lawyer needs to look up something for their client — when they search their property they’ll see a Google Map overlay, which provides a lot of visual information, like if you’re in a flood area, environmental impact, bylaws, etc. We take that visual information and we put it into a Word document for them. That process takes about 20 or 30 seconds. Traditionally, [the process] has involved lot of big binders, physical maps and several online portals that land developers and law firms had to sort through. With MYP, we’ve streamlined the process.
DT: We mostly do what the real estate industry calls a due diligence process. We pull from about 50 data sets, covering Toronto and the York region. These are requirements that let’s say a condo developer or home builder would need to follow. On the map there are five tabs: land use, zoning, environmental, water and provincial regulations.
DT: We derive the planning information from government data sets. A lot of it is open data, we are one of the first open data companies in Ontario. It comes from the City of Toronto, York Region and the provincial government. We update the information every month, and that process is also automated.
BBH: What types of clients are you targeting?
DT: We’re mainly focusing on real estate developers, real estate law firms and engineering firms.
BBH: What areas does MYP currently cover? Do you have plans to expand the areas you cover?
DT: We currently cover the City of Toronto and York Region — that’s more than a million properties. We’re looking to expand into Peel [Ontario], California and New York.
BBH: Can you tell us about the new upgrade you’re working on?
JT: The new report feature, which is a Word document, is like a checklist for developers. It simplifies the whole process. We also have a development tracker — like the name suggests, it tracks new developments that have been submitted to the city. We’re able to show them almost in real time. This allows developers to see which areas are hot and which areas are not, or to find little gems that have gone untouched.
BBH: Can you describe your revenue model?
DT: Essentially it’s software as a service. A basic membership is $495 a month for two users with access to the web platform. A pro membership is $1,195, also for two users, with access to the web platform, 60 property reports per year, as well as Google Earth, Civil 3D and ArcGIS access via WMS. The premium membership is $2,095 per month, two users, with access to the web platform, 144 property reports per year, the Google Earth, Civil 3D and ArcGIS access via WMS, development application tracking and real estate analytics.
DT: I should have said transforming instead! We’ve seen how developers and other professionals still go through the process manually. They hire an associate planner, or a junior developer, and it consumes almost a week of their time for a single property, depending on the complexity. We’ve reduced that down to 30 seconds. For example, Target looked at 253 sites [when they came to Canada] and they only purchased 130 of them. If they had used our program they could have avoided all that extra time and money. I love using that example because they did go bankrupt [laughs].
JT: The biggest factor of our platform is time saving. Our clients can use the time they save however they want — maybe they’ll look more in depth at a property, scour more sites or track the competition.
DT: We have one client who said they would allocate three months out of the whole year just for screening properties and deciding whether they were good enough to build on.
BBH: Where do you see yourselves in five years with MYP?
JT: We’ve been working on and off on this for two years. Devin and I went full time last December. I think the reason it’s taken us so long is how difficult it was for us to acquire most of the data. We’ve taken these last several months to figure out our process and client base. We’ll likely expand rapidly and into the U.S. where this type of data is more readily available. We’re also planning to push the GTA, Peel region and Vancouver.
DT: We’ve developed the technology, all that has to be done is switching the data and geographical information.
BBH: What has it been like to work in the Ryerson DMZ? How has it helped you?
JT: From a technical standpoint, the type of collaboration you get in the DMZ, an open-concept office, is great. There are 70 plus companies across several floors. It’s been a great experience, any time I have a problem I can poke around and ask for help. This is the only environment where it’s okay to peek at other people’s screens and say, “Hey, what’s that? What are you working on?” The people around you can help to make your life a lot easier.
DT: From a business standpoint, the best thing is hearing from successful companies or those who are further down the line than us. I think that’s saved us an enormous amount of time. One company in the DMZ, Sensible, just raised $4 million. Their founder gave me some great advice about sales. I love listening to people in the DMZ who have gone through the process. It’s less intimidating, too. If I want to talk to a mentor over coffee I can just say, “Hey, dude, want to go downstairs to Starbucks?”
Photo: Mark Blinch/DMZ
BBH: What have you learned from your startup experience?
JT: We initially launched the company in February, and in three months we were able to acquire five clients. The only reason we haven’t acquired more is because we don’t have the capacity to do so — which is a good problem to have. But our clients have been very supportive of our platform and helpful with feedback. They’ve given us plenty of insight on how to expand, how to prepare for more clients.
DT: That’s what surprised us the most. We’ve got the largest condo developer and the largest home builder in Toronto as clients, plus two of the top tier real estate law firms. That’s something we’re pretty proud of, there’s been so much traction.